New Partners of Approved and Prospective Foster Carers
AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and updated in March 2022.
1. Existing Approved Foster Carers with New Partner
A foster carer starting a relationship with a new partner needs to identify when the relationship has reached a level of seriousness and commitment. Once this has been established, it is appropriate to notify their fostering service about this because it constitutes a significant change in their circumstances. It would be expected that the foster carer will have had discussions with their new partner about the implications of fostering, how this will impact on them, and how they wish to manage this going forward.
When an existing foster carer enters a new relationship the following safeguarding steps must be taken in all cases.
Initial safeguarding steps and checks
If the partner is not living in the home but a new relationship has begun and he/she is a regular visitor the supervising social worker (SSW) must meet the person with the approved foster carer to establish:
- The frequency of contact;
- Their understanding of the carers fostering role and establish their views and understanding about this;
- The Foster Carer must sign the supervision record to agree that they will not been involved in any parenting aspects relating to the CLA without a fuller assessment, the nature of which to be decided on depending on how the relationship develops.
- DBS and other safeguarding statutory checks must be undertaken for any new partner having high levels of contact and visiting the family home;
- Risk assessment pending the completion of the full assessment, where the foster carer wishes his/her partner to stay overnight before the full assessment is completed, a Disclosure and Barring Service enhanced check must be carried out, and a risk assessment must also be completed to determine the level of additional checks required, before agreement to overnight stays can be given. The risk assessment should take account of, amongst other things:
- The number and ages of the children in the placement;
- Their views about the foster carer's partner;
- The significance and stability of the relationship (including how long they have known each other); and
- The foster carer's history of fostering.
Any agreement to overnight stays must be endorsed by the Team Manager and a discussion to be held with the Fostering Service Manager, as required.
If there is a plan for the new partner to move into the fostering household, a full fostering assessment of the partner will need to be undertaken prior to the partner moving into the family home. When a decision has been taken that an assessment will be undertaken, it might be appropriate to make a short-term agreement with both members of the couple about how things will be managed prior to, and during, the assessment period. That could include arrangements in relation to whether the new partner will stay overnight in the foster home, and the extent to which, if any, the new partner will be involved with the children or young people in placement. See section above regarding checks and risk assessments that needs to be undertaken.
It is important to be clear that the assessment being undertaken is in relation to the new partner and not the existing foster carer. There is no such thing in the fostering legislation as a "re-assessment", and the existing foster carer will retain their fostering status until such time as they resign, or their approval is formally terminated under Regulation 28 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (as amended). To terminate the approval of a foster carer in any circumstances will require a foster carer review.
When undertaking an assessment of the new foster carer, this will need to be done in the same way as would be the case for any other prospective foster carer in terms of compliance with Regulation 26 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (as amended), including all the required checks and references. It is entirely appropriate to use Form F for that purpose, and the various guidance materials (Chapman, 2019; Adams, 2019) will be relevant.
When using Form F for such an assessment, it is not appropriate to name the existing foster carer as an applicant, as they are not applying to foster, but are already an approved foster carer. However, it is important to make clear that the assessment of the new applicant is in the context of them wishing to foster alongside the existing carer as part of a couple, and this information should be set out clearly in the "pen picture" at the beginning of Form F, and throughout the assessment report. It might also be appropriate, with the agreement of the existing foster carer, for their original Form F to be made available to the fostering panel and decision maker when they are considering the new fostering application.
In assessing the new prospective foster carer, it will be necessary to undertake direct sessions with them individually, but will also require sessions involving the existing carer. Without this, it will be impossible to properly explore the new relationship, and to consider how this will impact on suitability to foster. Some of the information from the existing carer will need to be included in the new assessment report, and the existing foster carer should be part of the fostering panel process. The panel should feel able to ask questions to either the foster carer or partner, as this will allow them to fully explore the proposed new arrangement that will have significant implications for the foster carer, partner and for any children in placement.
However, it is important that the focus in the panel is on the new partner being approved, and consideration of the existing carer should not dominate the panel discussion.
A consent form regarding this assessment process is included at Appendix A and should be signed by the prospective new foster carer and the existing foster carer, alongside other consent forms that are routinely used with an applicant in the course of a fostering assessment.
If either the new partner or the existing foster carer is unwilling to agree to this approach, it will raise serious questions about how they will be able to foster effectively together going forward.
It is the expectation that all foster carers must inform the fostering service should their circumstances with their partner change with regards to the status of the relationship, overnight stays, moving into the household and moving out of the household.
It is important that the well-being of children and young people is safeguarded and that they are supported through any significant changes to their environment. To ensure foster carers are supported to maintain and/or amend their approval status, in exceptional circumstances whereby the foster carer was unable to notify the fostering service prior to their new partner (who should already be known to the fostering service) moving in, an immediate risk assessment and joint fostering assessment will need to be presented to the Fostering Panel within 16 weeks of the foster carer notifying the fostering service of the new partner moving in.
In circumstances where the new partner is also a Hertfordshire County Council approved foster carer either individually or with another partner, a review of their approval must be undertaken within 6 months of joining the household. The review should concentrate on the new partnership and should consider carefully the new relationships created within the reconstituted household.
Consideration should be given as to the new category of approval as well as the effect on any child(ren) already in placement.
Reviews of these circumstances must always be presented to Fostering Panel in accordance with Fostering Panel Procedure.
If a new partner plans to move into the home and will not comply with these arrangements, the existing foster carer will no longer be able to continue with their approval and will be invited to resign on these grounds. If the Foster carer does not agree to resign, then a foster carer annual review will need to be undertaken as a matter of urgency and presented to fostering panel. A consideration will need to be made to any children who are placed in the family home and how a termination of approval of the foster carer will impact on the children.
If an assessment is completed and does not recommend approval and/or the Fostering Panel does both recommend approval the matter needs exploration with the existing carer about their position, but the same procedures will apply as above.
2. Applicants without Previous Relationships
If applicants have not had previous significant relationships then this must be explored within the assessment, including within the analysis, by the assessing Social Worker.